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How to Win at Catan

Catan is one of those incredible games that helped revolutionize the board game world. It brought the popularity of gaming back into the spotlight and it’s incredibly fun. Before Catan, most households were likely to have a copy of Monopoly jammed somewhere in a linen closet, and now you’re more likely to find a copy of Catan in its place.

How to Win at Catan

Catan has quite a few strategies, and any one strategy isn’t going to win every time. So, if you’re looking to up your Catan game and crush it at family game night, we’ve compiled some of the best tips and tricks on how to win at Catan.

There are some great board game reviews and How to Play Catan guides available on the webs, so if you are looking to boost your Catan skill, we suggest checking these out.

Never Tell me the Odds

Actually, you should really look at those. Catan is a dice game, making it inherently luck-based, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use strategy to push the dice in your favor.

The initial placement of settlements is crucial to any strategy. If you haven’t noticed, take a look at the pips on the number tiles. These little dots indicate the odds of the dice rolls. Statistically speaking the more pips on the number tiles the more likely they’ll show up.

Speaking of statistics, when you roll 2 die a significant number of times the overall outcome will be the same. The first 10,000 times you roll the dice will be very similar to the next 10,000 times you roll the dice. On the other hand, the first 10 rolls will be completely different from the second 10 rolls. Statistics work well when you have a large pool to work with. The number of rolls in a Catan game isn’t statistically significant between game to game.

What do I mean by all this? Relying on previous dice rolls to predict the future is a fool’s errand. It’s never going to work.

On the Road Again

Getting the Longest Road is a great way to get those few extra points, but 2 points alone won’t win you the game. That doesn’t mean ignore the longest road, that just means don’t build your entire winning strategy around it.

It’s a great way to snag those 2 extra points for the final victory, but grabbing it early on locks you into a road-building race to keep it.

Grabbing it early forces you into that strategy of trying to keep the road for the remainder of the game. Oftentimes you’ll spend more resources protecting two points, while other players are upgrading settlements and gaining more resource production.

We Built this City


Seriously though, cities are a major advantage, and the player that can get 2 separate cities first is in a great position to take the win.

Placing your first two cities on a single number is a great way to build up a specific resource, but it’s also a great position to get hammered by the robber. If you decide to double down on a single resource, have at least one army card in your hand at all times.

Alternatively, if you have 2 separate resources, wheat and ore, for example, getting a city on one of those two separate resources will help you build up your resources quickly, and eventually build up a city building machine.

Develop It

Development cards are often overlooked and that can cost you the game. Development cards don’t sound that appealing, but they can be absolutely critical even for the knights.

The ever-present threat of a well-timed monopoly card is absolutely brutal, and should never be underestimated. I’ve been at the wrong end of a seemingly amazing trade, only to have the monopoly card played and all my resources wiped in a single turn.

The Year of Plenty and road-building cards are fantastic in any situation. Having the pick of 2 different resources that are safe from the Robber is incredible in a cutthroat game, and 2 extra roads are perfect when played with a new settlement for that one-two punch combo.

Sometimes you’ll find the island of Catan is just not big enough for everyone, and you’ve expanded as far as you can. When you see this start to happen, that’s when you want to invest heavily in development cards. A combination of the Largest Army and a few points from development cards are usually enough to win.

Push It to the Limit

Upgrading to cities is a vital part of the game. It grants double resources and counts as an extra victory point. Having multiple cities on the same tile can give even more resources, but definitely opens you up to getting ganged up on by the robber.

More resources are never a bad thing. Even when the robber hits, having too many resources isn’t the worst thing. If you manage to have 10-15 cards in your hand when a robber hits, you’ll still have 5-7 cards when it’s your turn.

You of course don’t want to waste cards, but having enough cards where it doesn’t matter is a completely viable strategy. Don’t be afraid of having too many cards in your hand. Spend them when you can, but having too many resources is a good thing.

I’m Trading Away

Understanding the trade dynamics is a must in any game of Catan. In friendlier games players usually give away trades 1:1 in the beginning. It’s a game after all there’s no reason to become completely cutthroat right?

Towards the end of a typical Catan game, there’s a drastic shift in trading. When players trade, they’re usually looking for 1-2 resources for a guaranteed victory point. Players need to be aware of overall point totals, and the ever-tricksy development cards. Trading with someone that has a handful of unused development cards and a few points off from 10 is a great way to end the game early in a loss.

Be absolutely certain when making a trade late game. If you can’t end the game on your next turn, you’re probably just giving away a point.

Final Countdown

You always need a plan for those final 2 victory points. Without having a clear way to victory, you’re going to end up losing. By the end of the game, the board will be packed, settlements will be cut off, and the Longest Road has been claimed.

One of the few complaints I get about Catan from my friends is how rapidly it ends. There’s a buildup and an expansion but then half an hour in, someone plops down a piece and proclaims victory. They had a plan to get those extra points.

Whether it’s making a push to find the last one in the development deck, snatch away the Longest Road or Largest Army, or turning your last two settlements into cities, you need to be prepared and have the resources and ability to push those last two points.

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